In the olden days, long before the invention of apps and Uggs, smart phones and selfie sticks, newspapermen would sit around the newsroom and discuss the big issues.
After deadline, we’d break out the Jack Daniels and cigars — yes, it was legal to drink and smoke in the newsroom back when dinosaurs walked the Earth. Then, we’d swap tall tales about the great things we did to make the world safe for democracy, as we waited for that fateful moment, like the first rumbling at Pompeii, when the presses started to roll.
We’d ruminate and expostulate about the important stuff. How many inches did you write? How many public officials did you irritate? What investigations were you working on? Why didn’t Notre Dame win the NCAA? And my perennial favorite, a metaphysical sort of question, “What is news?”
After all, we worked on a “NEWSpaper” and needed to have an appreciation of what we were peddling. You couldn’t eat it. You couldn’t drink it. You couldn’t smoke it. You worked hard to sell it. But what the heck was it? Some of the greatest minds in the business, such as Howard Kurtz, Abe Rosenthal and Ben Bradlee, have commented on this question.
Years later, no one drinks booze in the newsroom, newspapermen are extinct, and the media’s idea of news is crazier than ever. A lot of what passes for news on websites, blogs, TV, and so-called “aggregators” is nothing more than opinion, bad commentary, slanted reporting, fiction a la Rolling Stone, rumors, gossip and outright stupidity.
Consider this headline, which appeared on one of the nation’s largest news sites: “North West flushes Kanye’s phone down the toilet.” I’m not worried about the phone as much as I’m worried about the future of our democratic society when millions of readers crave stories like that.
North West, of course, is the daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, and this was such a BIG story that it ran for several days, just in case you didn’t recognize its importance the first, second and third time. Plus, it was accompanied by a video of the misdeed.
Flushing cell phones down the toilet is something that babies and drunks do all the time. As a trained professional journalist, let me explore whether it’s real news by answering some probing questions submitted by imaginary readers:
Q. If my granddaughter did that, would it be news?
A. Of course not, but if my granddaughter did it, I’d put it in a column.
Q. What if Bill Clinton’s granddaughter did it?
A. It would be news only if the phone contained the lost emails of Grandma Hillary.
Q. What if you uncovered a conspiracy by Apple and Sesame Street to encourage toddlers to flush iPhones down toilets to increase revenue?
A. That would be a HUGE story. It could win a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, not to mention an Emmy for Big Bird.
In recent months, I’ve developed gastrointestinal problems over idiotic headlines like “How Melissa Gilbert feels about going from size DD to ‘Just an average B’” and “My husband went out for a Coke and never came back,” and “Woman marries herself.” Along with my personal favorite — an irresistible true confession from actress Sofia Vergara: “I wish I had fake boobs.” Deliver us from evil. Please.
And every day there’s another story about the latest trend sweeping the entertainment industry, known as “celebrity wardrobe malfunctions,” which suspiciously occur whenever someone like Madonna or Bethenny Frankel spots a photographer.
Yahoo! News and the Huffington Post are especially aggressive when it comes to reporting about a celebrity’s private parts busting loose, with engaging stories like “See Behati Prinsloo flash her bare butt on the red carpet!” (Who’s Behati Prinsloo anyway?) And “Kylie Jenner Posts Her Raciest Bikini Pictures Yet.”
All this makes me think robots and/or nitwits are controlling the news coverage. For example, a recent story on Yahoo! had the headline: “5 Reasons Heath Ledger Is Wrong for The Joker.” It read, “Heath Ledger is a talented actor, but his casting as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins sequel — The Dark Knight — seems like a misstep on the director’s part.”
Superb reporting, with one problem. Heath Ledger has been dead seven years and the movie was released in 2008.
Would someone please get control of those robots and/or nitwits? And would celebrities please get control of their wayward body parts?
Contact Joe Pisani at joefpisani [at] yahoo.com.